Room for improvement exists regarding recommendations for screening, staging, therapy selection, and frequency of surveillance of gastrointestinal cancers. Screening is costly and invasive, improved staging demands increased sensitivity and specificity to better guide therapy selection. Surveillance requires increased sensitivity for earlier detection and precise management of recurrences. Peripherally collected blood-based liquid biopsies enrich and analyze circulating tumor cells and/or somatic genomic material, including circulating tumor DNA along with various subclasses of RNA. Such assays have the potential to impact clinical practice at multiple stages of management in gastrointestinal cancers. This review summarizes current basic and clinical evidence for the utilization of liquid biopsy in cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, colon, and rectum. Technical aspects of various liquid biopsy methodologies and targets are reviewed and evidence supporting current commercially available assays is examined. Finally, current clinical applicability, potential future uses, and pitfalls of applying liquid biopsy to the screening, staging and therapeutic management of these diseases are discussed.
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